CRISFIELD — By a 3-2 vote the City Council selected the proposal from Element MD LLC for the redevelopment of the former Carvel Hall property.
Provided a cultivation license is awarded by the Maryland Cannabis Commission the limited liability company intends to turn the 70,300 sq. ft. building into an indoor greenhouse to grow medicinal marijuana.
Element proposes to purchase the former cutlery manufacturing plant located on 23 acres fronting Crisfield Highway for $200,000 and employ 35 to 40 people to operate an “indoor agriculture facility.” Ted Bibart, chief policy officer for Element MD, said in November that once the site is redeveloped it will be valued at $9.35 million with a projected average revenue of $28 million per year.
“This is a family business,” Mr. Bibart said, and his wife Nkechi Iwomi is founder and CEO of Element Consulting Services LLC and the Ohio natives have since closed on a home near Princess Anne.
Element MD was awarded a pre-approval license last fall for the processing of marijuana and purchased a building in the Princess Anne Industrial Park for that purpose. The state currently has one undesignated cultivation license.
The Carvel Hall property is a brownfield but Mr. Bibart sees few outdoor modifications except the addition of solar panels attached to concrete struts so as to not disturb the soil. There would be additional panels on the roof.
He said electricity generation would be up to 1.7 MWh to supplement demand for the greenhouse.
Based on the text of the RFP the city will now enter into exclusive negotiations with Element MD and over the next 60 days work on a redevelopment contract, after which the terms of sale will be approved by the City Council. The purchase price will not go to the city, however, but to the Department of Housing and Community Development which has provided millions to support Crisfield not only at this location but others.
“It’s been a long process,” said Vice President Eric Banks, who seconded a motion by Councilwoman Charlotte Scott to offer the property to Element MD. Voting with them March 10 was newly-appointed Councilman Casey Goldsborough, who said over the previous week he researched the plans and listened to constituents coming away with the opinion that 97% supported this.
Mr. Goldsborough said the city should not dictate what business goes in the building so long as it’s legal in the state. “This is jobs, this is tax money, this is what we run off of,” he said. “There’s nothing illegal about medical marijuana here.”
Councilman Mike Atkins first motioned to accept a redevelopment proposal from Mary Franz, an offer that she and the principals asked not to be publicly discussed. His motion died for lack of a second. Dr. Atkins said this would have been good for Crisfield but acknowledged it was “not fleshed out.”
Dr. Atkins predicted that the chances of Element getting another license from the Cannabis Commission “is very low” and if one is not granted “What happens then?”, suggesting the building will continue to sit idle. He said even if it does open the council will look back years from now and wish they had handled this differently.
Councilman Jimmy Ford said as a long-time youth leader and scoutmaster who tells children to stay away from drugs he could not be a hypocrite and support this. He said he may have felt differently if Element MD had its growers license in hand, but believes there are other businesses suitable for the site.
Councilwoman Scott said she was skeptical at first but came to be convinced the principals behind Element MD “are good people” and that the products help some people. She herself has just become eligible to purchase medicinal cannabis drops for chronic nerve pain and is now testing it, saying traditional medicine “has not helped” and had side effects.
“This is not for adolescents,” Ms. Scott said, and like any other prescription or opioid children could get it in a home if it’s not secured. “I believe this will be good for Crisfield,” and if Element MD doesn’t get the one cultivation license available now she predicts there will be more available in the near future.
“I think it’s very lucrative,” a positive direction “for the benefit of the city,” Vice President Banks said of Element MD.
Mayor Barry Dize said, “I know this has been difficult...but this case is closed” and asked the council to not dwell on the past “if it didn’t go your way.”
Main Street Investments LLC was the other proposal submitted and Don D’Aquilla had a plan to create a “retail destination” with outlet stores and small businesses.